Although set in the United States, this piece by Mark Oppenheimer – who, as the religion columnist for the New York Times, one would expect to be about as right-on as one can get this side of an Occupy! encampment – is a great dissection of a parenting style the Prick suspects many readers will recognise, i.e., that of the modern-day, left-wing Puritan:
“Last month, at a birthday party for a three-year-old, I was hit with the realization that most of the parents around me were in the grip of moral panic, the kind of fear of contamination dramatized so well in The Crucible. One mother was trying to keep her daughter from eating a cupcake, because of all the sugar in cupcakes. Another was trying to limit her son to one juice box, because of all the sugar in juice. A father was panicking because there was no place, in this outdoor barn-like space at some nature center or farm or wildlife preserve, where his daughter could wash her hands before eating. And while I did not hear any parent fretting about the organic status of the veggie dip, I became certain there were such whispers all around me … I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children”.
Oppenheimer goes on to dissect how good, educated, left-wing parents – his people – have started to give him the almighty shits: “They represent the persistence of two unfortunate tendencies liberals have inherited from the Puritans, queered along the way by Progressive-era reformers. The first is the fun-smothering tendency of Progressive-era moral uplift, the tendency that brought us Prohibition and the first laws proscribing opiates and narcotics. (Today, we try to ban large cups of soda.) The second is an interest in hygiene that could be quite salutary—as when reformers pushed clean water and other public-health measures—but could also fetishize symbolic, pernicious forms of sanitation and purity, as in Margaret Sanger’s support for eugenics.”
The Prick was raised on a steady diet of Ronald Reagan and P.J. O’Rourke, and so the idea that the fun police come from the Left has been long-engrained (it was Al Gore’s former wife Tipper who famously waged war on rock music’s evil lyrics in the 1980s, after all), but it is nice to see folks on that side of things start to question their relentless stentorian scolding.
And for lovers of food, there’s a particular paradox that needs to be untangled: Broadly speaking, it has been the heirs to various leftish back-to-the-land 1960s-type movements who, riding the tide that lifted educated “symbolic analysts” and other brain-workers into New Class prosperity, have created both the supply and demand for all sorts of great produce. Yet it is also almost uniformly from the left that movements to restrict consumption come as well.
Oppenheimer’s piece dovetails nicely with this article from the UK’s Ian Dunt on “the glory of smoking”. Don’t get me wrong: If the Little Pricks were ever caught smoking anything other than a Montecristo #2 they’d be in every bit as much trouble as if they were found out getting a tattoo, casting a vote for the Greens, or mixing a martini with vodka. But nonetheless, this is a very good point which cuts to the heart of the public health lobby’s continual encroachments on our individual rights to eat and drink and live as we please:
We currently see life primarily in terms of longevity. Pretty much all coverage of dietary habits is about prolonging life. Few people ever talk anymore about living life well; living it thoroughly. Late nights, rich dinners and good, visceral adventures take years off your life. They shorten it.
God, if he existed, would be a fair cop: Those who live life thoroughly, live it short. Those who live cautiously, live long. One must decide which path one wishes to take. But let us get rid of this absurdity where the latter camp claims moral superiority over the former.
Interesting, too, that Dunt brings up God: When the post-modern, secular West gave up religion, it gave up the hope of an afterlife (therefore every day here counts, because that’s all she wrote). But it didn’t give up human nature. Today’s secular scolds are every bit obnoxious as yesterday’s religious ones in that they both wish to use the state to enforce their righteousness on the rest of us. Organic and biodynamic labels are in many ways no different than kosher or halal certifications; the food has been prepared correctly and is, according to the priestly class of the day, fit for certification. Likewise obnoxious fads like Meat-Free Monday and Dry July are nothing more than secular fasts, designed to affirm the superiority of those who self-abnegate themselves and lord it over those who don’t abstain.
Personally, the Prick finds it a lot more fun being a bad Catholic than a good secularist.
Spot on! What is interesting is how the wowser left are turning on their own traditional constituents, the smoking, drinking, duck hunting, feral pig shooting, wolf whistling white bread eating blue collar worker.
Have they deliberately dropped them because they are an embarrasment or have they realised these people are themselves moving over to the freedom loving aspirational class?
Funny how these wowsers still think they come from the rebellious tradition and spirit of the 1960s but really reflect their grandparents of the 50s “reefer madness” era.
Have you ever really looked into biodynamism James? It is the whackiest thing…derived from Steiner. Fill a deer antler with cow turds and bury it in your field when Jupiter is in Capricorn, or some such, to ensure a “holistic” crop.
Oh it’s nuts. Invented by Rudolph Steiner, as it happens. Weirdly though biodynamic producers make some phenomenal wine.
Oh I’m sure some of them make products that are tastier than normal products.. I just don’t think they’re any holier because of the deer-antler-turd thing.
The biodynamic and organic set usually offer better produce for reasons completely unrelated to the ‘organicness’ (for want of a term).
Often it’s just that the organic meat (for example) has better husbandry – it’s bugger all to do with the certifiable grain. Small herds, freshly killed etc.
The appeal of organic produce has bugger all to do with the use of copper sulfate instead of ‘nasty’ chemicals, and often that the varieties may be low yield heirloom types and haven’t been in old storage for 8months.
I’m happy to buy organic where it makes sense, but the ‘unique selling proposition’ of the certification is bullshit – they taste good for other reasons.
Speaking of food and eating all the wrong things, I just had a toasted ham and chees sandwich, delicious, at least the bread was PC wholemeal.
They are exactly like modern-day Pharesees: All laws, no faith.
Prick, don’t get me wrong, I love your countrymen and women, just about the nicest, most likeable people on earth, but it’s long been obvious that the prim, censorious, tendencies of the left find particularly fertile soil in the United States precisely because of that country’s modest, thrifty, buttoned-down puritan tradition (in many ways admirable). The joyless, controlling spirit of the left – the perpetual fear that spontaneity, fun, eccentricity, individualism might lead to dancing – is alive an well there; the politically correct are particularly humourless and inward-looking in California or New York, I find. After all, the cringeworthy euphemism “gender”, meaning “sex” in the sense of classification as male or female, is an americanism that arose out of a kind of subliminal puritanical embarrassment about a simple english word. You can’t imagine such a pointless hijacking of a grammatical term happening in Britain or here – at least not yet.
These people are the direct heirs of the Victorians who clothed chair legs and referred to them as “limbs”. It’s an interesting phenomenon, how you can try to stuff a human urge into a box, but it keeps on re-emerging like an octopus.
Great post, Prick, and some excellent reading you have linked to. That’s an extremely perceptive point that Ian Dunt made about individual choice and moral superiority.
Hey Pwaf, are you familiar with R. W. (Johnny) Apple Jr’s writing on food? You somewhat remind me of him.
Yes I am – thanks – I’ll take that as a compliment!